Here's another reason (if you need one) to dine in downtown Tulsa's booming warehouse district: El Guapo Cantina. Situated on the corner of 1st and Elgin, this Tex-Mex restaurant is bringing in hungry crowds.
Another venture of galloping entrepreneur Elliot Nelson, founder of the very popular James E. McNellie's Public House, also on 1st Street, El Guapo's has transformed this corner into a buzzing crossroad of activity. This is a dashing and handsome place, as the name indicates, with three floors of dining possibilities.
Walking in, diners are immediately brought into a colorful, festive setting, with first floor dining and a bar. Eating on the this first floor level entails sitting on long wooden tables, with decorative piñatas dangling from the ceiling and traditional Mexican religious and secular artwork scattered about.
The second floor looks out onto 1st Street; small tables covered with colorful vinyl cloths, exposed brick walls, a tin ceiling and small bar are crowded into this area; and the "prime seating area" (where you might anticipate waiting for more than an hour on weekends) is rooftop outside bar area (where smoking is allowed).
This handsome area has umbrella-covered seating with ceiling fans to circulate the downtown air, and white twinkling lights hug the wooden beams to offer a festive Cantina experience.
Manager Alix French says that chef Wade McCracken, who has 15 years experience in Tulsa restaurants (Sobo Loco, En Fuego, Tsunami), also spent a number of years traveling through Mexico studying up close and personal the authentic flair in Mexican foods that Americans just can't seem to get enough of.
To begin the meal, he suggests trying the Oaxacan Tamale ($5.99) or the Ceviche de Camaron (small $8.49, large $12.49) Alambres from the Appetizers menu. The Oaxacan Tamale (pronounced "wä-'hä-kän") is El Guapo's own hand-made smoked chicken masa tamale cooked in a fresh banana leaf pouch, topped with a rich Oaxacan mole sauce.
Ceviche de Camaron, one of my very favorite dishes, is spiced and chilled tomato sauce mixed with lime, Gulf shrimp, diced Roma tomatoes, onion, cilantro and avocado and served with crispy flour tortilla chips.
Entrees French recommends include Alambres ($13.99) from the Authentic South of the Rio Grande menu and the Wet Burrito ($7.99), from the Comforting TexMex Favorites. "We took fajitas off the menu, but have Alambres which is a combination of pork loin, beef skirt steak, chicken breast and bacon," he says.
This intense meat dish comes with sautéed bell peppers, onions and mushrooms, and is then finished in a red chili salsa, topped with quesillo cheese and served with flour tortillas, guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo.
French is very proud of the bar menu as well. He says it is reason enough to come in. "We have great recipes for margaritas," he says, adding that "we don't use a sweet and sour mix for our margaritas like so many restaurants do. We use fresh lime juice, triple sec and tequila," which is what El Guapo's Margarita De La Casa ($4.95 12 oz., $12.95 42 oz.) is all about.
Specialty margaritas include El Frostito (frozen version of the house margarita), Hibiscus Margarita, Margarita Ponche de Fruta, The Horny Toad, Purely Patrón, Tamarind Margarita, The Lucky Day, or the Little Neddy Goes to War, 70 ounces of pure enjoyment for the entire table.
For those daring enough, It's a Sweater! Is the "madre" of all margaritas: Don Julio Real mixed with Grand Marnier and lime, served straight up for $45.
I dined here on a Saturday evening at probably the busiest of times, and had a 45-mintute wait, which sitting at the bar sipping a margarita was not bad at all. I tried the Hibiscus Margarita which is described as "the beauty of a Mexican flower infused with a margarita."
I had it served straight up; it was sweet and aromatic--quite good. My friend enjoyed the house margarita, enjoying the authentic taste of all ingredients.
For our Appetizer, we selected the Tuna Tartar Tacos ($9.99) which was four crispy corn tortilla shells filled with fresh chopped Ahi Tuna tartar in a Fresno chili alioli with pico de gallo and guacamole. We both enjoyed the combo of textures with these tacos, the crispy shell contrasts well with the fresh meaty texture of the tuna. It screams fresh! We did notice, though, that one taco's tuna meat had tough membrane which was rendered unchewable.
For my dinner, I selected the Wet Burrito and my friend chose the Carne Asada. The Wet Burrito was a full meal--a large flour tortilla was packed with my choice of house-smoked chicken or carne asada (I chose the meat), Jack cheese, refried black beans and poblano rice; it was then topped with salsa roja and creamy white queso and served with sour cream, guacamole and pico de gallo.
The Burrito was excellent! Each bite was an explosion of tastes and flavors. The guac was refreshing, and the sour cream and pico de gallo just added another dimension to each taste.
My friend's Carne Asada ($12.99) was the house steak, an 8-ounce Mesquite grilled beef skirt steak, dusted with chile lime essence and topped with caramelized onions. This was served with pico de gallo, guacamole, Mexican crema and corn or flour tortillas.
My dining companion especially enjoys the Carne Asada at Mexican restaurants around the city, and he really found this one to be one of the best--flavorful and tender. It is served with poblano rice and either refried black beans or charro beans.
The rice was dotted with corn, tomato and green bell pepper--very good, and the black beans were smashed to a thick creaminess--with a roasted chile pepper flavor throughout.
Other menu items include Chile Verde, Pollo Verde, Enchiladas de Mole Poblano, Smoked Chicken Chimichanga, Pacific Coast Fish Tacos, Cheese or Beef Enchilada Dinner, Vera Cruz Dinner and more.
Come hungry and come expecting to wait at peak dining times, and leave pleasantly satisfied.
El Guapo Cantina
332 E. 1st St.
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